Updated: March 18, 2014 at 4:18 pm
The potential shown by Air Force hockey makes this year's league quarterfinals exit all the more disappointing.
"I feel sorry for the seniors," Falcons coach Frank Serratore said. "To be able to get to Rochester (N.Y., league semifinals) and two games away, at a neutral site, from the NCAAs was the goal but it didn't work out that way.
"They showed the ability to come from behind and win games," he added. "You cannot say that about a lot of teams. But the finish puts a damper on a good team."
But it does not take away from another strong season for a team picked to tie for second in the Atlantic Hockey Association preseason poll. The Falcons finished third despite significant injuries to junior defensemen Alex Halloran and Dan Weissenhofer and senior goalie Jason Torf.
The Falcons extended their program record with an eighth-straight top-four league finish, an active streak that trails only North Dakota (12).
This year's AFA team was only the second in program history to record 20 wins during the regular season, finishing 21-14-4. Other highlights included a road win over Colorado College and a holiday tournament championship against two ranked foes.
"This team, during the regular season and in so many ways, overachieved," Serratore said. "It is hard to win 20 games during the regular season no matter what league you play in."
But the parity among the top eight teams in the Atlantic Hockey Association led to a second quarterfinal exit in a row. Of the four quarterfinal series, three lower seeds advanced. It bodes well for the league, but makes advancing all the more difficult for Air Force, despite a strong regular season.
The program loses a strong senior class, led by Torf and 2012-13 league Defenseman of the Year Adam McKenzie, who finished tied for 12th with Michael Mayra among AFA blue-liners with 75 career points (53 assists).
Torf is one of 18 nominees for the inaugural Mike Richter Award as the top Division I goalie. He finished with 2,901 career saves in 115 games, fourth all-time behind Andrew Volkening (2,909, 127 games, 2007-10).
Serratore said forwards Jason Fabian, Ryan Timar and Tony Thomas were steady contributors all four years while defenseman Jacob Musselman and wing Mitch Torrel both improved and contributed as upperclassmen.
"Our seniors were playing their best hockey at the end," Serratore said. "Torf was a big-game goalie and McKenzie was a talent. You can't really replace those guys. None of the seniors wanted this season to end but it did. That's hockey."
Air Force career saves leaders
Al Morrison, 1971-75 3,270
Kim Newman, 1968-71 3,228
Andrew Volkening, 2007-10 2,909
Jason Torf, 2010-14 2,901
Mark Liebich, 1988-90 2,551